Time Travel – What You Find When You Empty a Box!

It was a beautiful day in Connecticut today – mid-70s, low humidity. Perfect day to be outside. So, of course, today was the day I chose to finally go through the two boxes of my mother’s papers. In my defense, I already went outside a couple times this week! My mother passed away on Dec. 2, 2011. I was the Executrix of her estate. You may be wondering why there were still boxes of ephemera languishing in my closet after nearly nine years. I have a very good reason. I took care of all the stuff one does to settle an estate by the end of 2012. But, contained somewhere within all those bank statements, file folders, and assorted articles was the information I would need to tell the story of how I was able to secure about $60,000 in Holocaust repartations for Mom. It would take some time to go through, gathering the small bits of info I would need, so I left everything as is until I had the time.

Today was that day.

I have been hard at work for months – researching, gathering, organizing, scanning, and recording the hundreds of documents we possess related to my family’s experience. It’s almost time to write the story. But first, I needed to know how much Mom received, when she received it, and maybe – what she did with it. This post is not about that. This post is about what else I found on today’s time-travel journey.

I spent a few minutes in 1947 – the year my great-grandmother, Sophie Weiss Spiegel wrote her “last will.” When Sophie wrote this she was 73 years old. She had been in America for 9 years, but spoke very little English, Hence, the reason this is written in German. Sophie died two years after she wrote this.

Sophie’s “Letze Wille” mostly lists jewelry to be divided among her three children, her grand-daughter and first grandson. Her second grandson wouldn’t be born until years later in 1961!

Sophie’s will contained great descriptions of some jewelery pieces which is quite helpful in trying to determine provenance of heirlooms. I never saw this document before. It was in a red folder (No- NOT a red checkbook! That’s a story for another day.) which also had a very detailed spreadsheet of all the items in my mother’s safe deposit box. Guess who made the spreadsheet? Yup – me! Too bad I forgot about it. It would have been easier to use that instead of creating one when I was working on my mother’s estate. I was also very smart about photographing items then too. (Whenever “then” was.)

Each of the jewelry pieces was numbered and described in the inventory. I really should update the spreadsheet with where all these pieces ended up. It will be fun to be able to trace which ones go back to our great-grandmother. I highly recommend doing a photo inventory like this for your important items. I also highly recommend remembering to use it!

Fast forward to 2006. Another folder in the box contained the inventory I created for the insurance company when my mother’s dishwasher let loose, flooding her basement. That was actually a blessing in disguise. Not only did Mom get an entirely brand-new kitchen, we got the mold in the basement remediated.

We did lose more than 1,000 books and a bunch of our old toys, but let’s be honest – that stuff was probably molding anyway! Plus, it was a whole bunch of stuff somebody else had to get rid of instead of me doing it!

There were files containing receipts for all the dollhouse minatures Mom bought (Those will be helpful when I finally write “Mom, Minis, and Me”) and for the American Girl products she purchased. Another folder contained newspaper obituaries for friends and family. I kept that one of course, to go through later.

The folder of medical insurance claims just for 2011, was almost one-and-a-half inches thick. That made me sad. But another folder made me giggle. Mom had an entire file folder full of birth certificates for Cabbage Patch dolls! Back in 1983, Mom really, really wanted a Cabbage Patch doll. It was for her. It was the height of the Cabbage Patch craze and those dolls were as scarce as hen’s teeth. Mom got wind of a shipment to be arriving at Bradlees, our local department store. She headed straight there. From what she reported the scene was crazy – women fighting to grab themselves the rarely seen dolls. She managed to wrangle one away and took off to the cash register. When she got home, she opened the birth certificate to find out what her “baby” would be named. That particular doll was meant to be my Mom’s! The doll’s middle name was ALFIE – her husband’s nickname!! Sadly neither Alfie nor his “namesake” are with us any longer, but this story will last forever!!!

Apparently, my sister Betsy “witnessed” this adoption!
Nope! That’s NOT the red checkbook!

I went through all Mom’s bank statements from 2003-2011. I found all the information I needed for my reparation story. I also found two checkbook boxes. One was full of what you would expect – cancelled checks and old registers. The second one – full of old credit cards! The little red wallet contained a card listing all the specific Lancome beauty products my mother used. The rest were mostly credit cards. Apparently my mother either didn’t know you could cut up old cards or, more likely, she just liked keeping them. Here’s some of the highlights of that box:

11 credit cards, 9 department store cards, a AAA card, Home Depot, and 3 cards for plus-size clothing stores. Her collection of cards tells the story of Hamden department stores and supermarkets long gone- Pathmark, A&P, Bradlees, Arthur’s. Mom had two phone cards: an Excel one (Scott and I were Excel representartives for a “hot minute”) and an AT&T one sponsored by Shaklee (which my sister Kathy sold.) Mom was also a charter member of the History Channel, the Cooking Club of America, the Creative Home Arts Club, the National Health&Wellness Club, the National Gardening Club, the National Geographic Bird Watcher’s Society, and um…the Handyman Club of America.

I just love that picture of my mom. It was taken on one of our last visits to Stowe’s Seafood in West Haven.

So, that was my day. I’m happy to report the boxes are now empty and my recyle bin is full. It should be noted I purposely made many trips to the trash can instead of one big one. My office area is on the second floor and of course, the trash can is outside. Therefore I did get exercise and sunshine! Now, about tomorrow… another beautiful day is expected. Looks like a great day to write!’

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